Do I need a will or living will? - Probably both!  They are very different things for very different purposes.

What is a will? - A will (and final testament) is a document that takes effect upon the death of the individual making the will.  That person is commonly called a "will-maker," or testator.  There are a few lawyers who still maintain the tradition of identifying women as "testatrix."

What is a living will? - A living will is a document which directs your healthcare and treatment when you are unable to speak for yourself whether due to physical injury, illness or mental infirmity.  These documents are now more frequently identified as healthcare directives.  They may include a durable power of attorney appointing one or more persons to assist medical personnel in determining your wishes about treatment, or more importantly the withholding of treatment where there is little hope for recovery.

Both wills and living wills may be revoked anytime during the testator's life so long as the will-maker remains competent. Very rarely, will provisions may be enforced even if the will is revoked.  This occurs when an exchange is made between persons, one or both of which includes leaving a gift at death.  This most commonly happens when an elderly person receives care from another in return for the promise of providing payment or compensation through a will.

A will is an important part of any estate plan. It is the last "fail-safe" in the event other mechanisms fail.

A will is not the place for either revenge or expressions of love. It is a legal document designed for the purpose of disposing of a person's property and wealth at the time of death.  Personal letters to be delivered at the time of death are better ways of leaving a last message beyond the actual gifts provided.

To whom can I make gifts in a will? - You can leave your property to any living person, corporation, charity or governmental body (not restricted by the U.S. Department of State).  You cannot leave your property to a pet, although there are ways to provide for the care of a pet after your death.

Unless otherwise expressly agreed between a married couple, you must leave a share of your estate to a spouse, otherwise Missouri provides a right to "elect against the will."  This is simply a right to have a portion of an estate set aside to the spouse while the remainder is then divided as described by the will.  Similarly, a testator has an obligation to provide for minor children.

What if I die without a will? - With the exception of real property in another state, any property in your estate will be divided as set forth in Missouri statutes.  It will first be left to your spouse if married (even if a divorce is pending).  If you also have children, it will be divided among them and your spouse if you are still married.  If you have no spouse or children, then courts will seek more distant classes of relatives first parents, then siblings, etc.  Finally, if no living relative is discovered, the state will take your property.

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